South Korea and North Korea began their first high-level formal talks after more than two years on Tuesday to discuss Pyongyang’s potential participation in next month’s Winter Olympics and ways to improve their long-stalled bilateral ties.
The talks started at 10 a.m. at the truce village of Panmunjom, a heavily fortified border area in South Korea’s North Hwanghae province, reports Yonhap News Agency.
“I came here with hopes that the two Koreas hold talks with a sincere and faithful attitude to give precious results to the Korean people who harbour high expectations for this meeting, as the first new year present,” Ri Son-gwon, North Korea’s chief delegate, said.
He is the chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, North Korea’s state agency handling affairs with the South.
“These talks started after long-frayed inter-Korean ties,” said Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, South Korea’s chief negotiator, in response.
“Well begun is half done. I hope that (the two sides) could hold the talks with determination and persistence.”
The meeting comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extended a rare rapprochement to Seoul in his New Year’s Day message.
He expressed a willingness to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and said the country was open for dialogue.
North Korea accepted Seoul’s dialogue offer on January 5 after South Korea and the US agreed to postpone their military drills until after the Olympics.
It also reopened a long-disconnected border hotline.
During the meeting, the two Koreas will focus on Olympic cooperation and are also expected to discuss ways to improve long-stalled inter-Korean ties.
Possible agenda items with regard to the Olympics include whether North Korea’s delegation would travel by land or other routes and whether the two Koreas would march together under a unified Korean flag at the opening and closing ceremonies.
As to inter-Korean ties, Seoul is expected to highlight the urgency of easing military tensions and resolving the issue of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War by renewing its July peace proposal.
Last July, South Korea proposed holding military talks on easing border tensions and holding a Red Cross meeting to discuss the reunion of divided families. North Korea has not responded to Seoul’s offer till date.
Asked if North Korea’s denuclearisation issue could be discussed, Baik Tae-hyun, spokesman at Seoul’s Unification Ministry said on Monday: “The Koreas plan to discuss Olympic cooperation and issues of mutual concern.”
Tuesday’s meeting came as North Korea is under tough international sanctions over its nuclear and missile provocations.
It conducted its sixth nuclear test and fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) last year.